The false perception of “knowing” a celebrity is often a phenomenon that many fall victim to, so much so that there is a term for it – parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships are typically defined as one-sided relationships where one person attributes deep efforts of time, energy and dedication towards someone who is unaware of the other’s existence.
It’s easy to put a celebrity on a pedestal when you don’t have direct access to them; how can they let you down when you consume carefully curated songs or media that present them in a near-perfect light? And what happens when they do?
The phantom of believing that your favourite celebrity can do no harm is often used to the advantage of said celebrity – why wouldn’t they want everyone to believe they’re a good person?
But, this mirage fizzles to an end when the rose-coloured glasses come off, revealing that they might not be who you thought they were or wanted them to be.
Rex Orange County, real name Alex O’Connor, is a perfect example of this. Personally, I’ve been an avid fan of O’Connor for years– his lyrics covered topics that were relatable but difficult to put into words, such as mental health, relationships and the anxiety of growing up. I would use his work to really put into perspective how I felt about difficult times in my life, specifically during the pandemic.
In interviews, O’Connor came off as shy and awkward, someone who could do no wrong. You can imagine the shock fizzling across the fanbase when the recent news of O’Connor being charged with six counts of sexual assault.
Due to the deep nature of O’Connor’s music, it was difficult for fans to wrap their head around the fact that someone they could relate to could commit a crime like this. Fuelled by anger and betrayal, many fans vowed to never listen to the artist again, deeming his songs tainted by the charges.
It was almost as if the shared reaction of shock caused fans to overlook the actual assault. Although it is fair to be upset and shocked, it’s not fair to negate the victim’s experience or play “lawyer” and try to “debunk” the claims.
Fans were also quick to point out that O’Connor cancelled the remainder of his tour over the summer due to “personal reasons,” leading many fans to feel sympathy for the artist. The tour actually being cancelled due to the charges accompanying the assault left a bitter taste with fans.
When celebrity personalities begin to be seen in a good light, they often play into the narrative and reap the benefits. O’Connor went on tour, sold merch and continued to play into this narrative of being a “soft indie artist” for as long as he could before the allegations became public.
Although infidelity and assault are incomparable, Ned Fulmer from the “Try Guys” capitalized on the persona of being “the guy who loves his wife” for years, perceived by society as a “good guy”. Through sharing personal stories online and featuring his wife in videos at every opportunity, Fulmer managed to create a parasocial relationship with fans of being a guy who just loves his wife. Until, he cheated on her.
This sparked a butterfly effect across fans on Twitter, who were livid over Fulmer’s reputation going to shambles due to his own actions– the controversy garnered so much attention that even SNL made a skit about it.
When celebrities destroy their reputation almost instantaneously by displaying their true colours, it leaves fans with confusion and betrayal. At times they are left in denial and are quick to defend the celebrity.
In times like these, it’s important to remind yourself that although you consume their work, purchase their work or even see them live– We don’t know these people at all. We must let go of the facade of who we thought they were and rework our attention by thinking of those who are directly affected by the actions of said celebrities.